U.S. Transportation Chief: Don't Drive Recalled Toyotas

February 3, 2010

In a House Appropriations panel hearing this morning Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood stated that his own advice to owners of the 2.3 million Toyota vehicles recalled due to potentially sticky accelerator pedals would be to not drive them at all.

Up until now, Toyota—and the official recall advisory—has only recommended that owners of affected vehicles should pay attention to the way in which the accelerator pedal operates.

"While we are aware of no deaths or injuries due to this condition, consumers should take the following steps prior to receiving the recall remedy," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states in a consumer advisory released Monday. "Owners of these vehicles should pay attention to the operation of their accelerator pedals. If their accelerator pedal is harder to depress than normal or slower to return, it may be a precursor to a stuck pedal."

If the accelerator becomes sluggish to return or feels different, owners should park the vehicle and call the dealer immediately (shifting to neutral and coming to a safe stop prior to shutting off the engine).

Now, based on LaHood's statement, it might seem that the best thing to do is park the vehicle altogether.

But Toyota still maintains otherwise. Just before we posted this piece, Toyota released a counterstatement saying that "the situation is rare and generally does not occur suddenly." The company asserted, "In the rare instances where it does it occur, the vehicle can be controlled with firm and steady application of the brakes."

"If you are not experiencing any issues with your pedal, we are confident that your vehicle is safe to drive," declared Toyota.

UPDATE:  Later in the day, LaHood has retracted his earlier comment, releasing the following official statement: “I want to encourage owners of any recalled Toyota models to contact their local dealer and get their vehicles fixed as soon as possible. NHTSA will continue to hold Toyota’s feet to the fire to make sure that they are doing everything they have promised to make their vehicles safe. We will continue to investigate all possible causes of these safety issues.”

Several sources have reported over the past several days that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is reinvestigating the possibility that electromagnetic interference might cause such an issue. Toyota phased in electronic throttle systems (called ETCS-i in most cases), on most of its U.S. vehicles between 2002 and 2005

More details are also emerging about the days leading up to the recall. U.S. Department of Transportation officials reportedly flew to Japan to encourage the company to speed up its effort to recall and fix the issue. LaHood said that the administration is considering civil penalties against Toyota, and he is planning to call Toyota president Akio Toyota to assure that the company in Japan is doing everything it can to solve the issues in the U.S. A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing will be held on the recalls February 10.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Toyota told its U.S. dealers that it will be sending payments of $7,500 to $75,000 to each dealership to help cover extended service hours as well as other customer services surrounding the recall.

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